May 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday announced a breakthrough in research into tapping a possibly vast fuel resource that could eventually bolster already massive U.S. natural gas reserves.
By injecting a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into a methane hydrate formation on Alaska's North Slope, the department was able to produce a steady flow of natural gas in the first field test of this method. The test was done from mid-February to about mid-April this year
Gerald Holder, dean of the engineering program at University of Pittsburgh and who has worked with the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory on the hydrate issue, said before this announcement he had been skeptical about what researchers would be able to accomplish.
He said the main problem until now was finding a way to extract natural gas from solid hydrates without adding a whole lot of steps that made the process too expensive, so the success of this new test is significant.
"It makes the possibility of recovering methane from hydrates much more likely," Holder said. "It's a long way off, but this could have huge impact on availability of natural gas."
Innovation marches on.